Wheeler: Severe climate scenario is ‘fear propaganda’

Source: By Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2020

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told a Brazilian newspaper that a severe climate scenario used regularly in scientific assessments is responsible for “fear propaganda.”

Wheeler twice raised concerns about the so-called Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP 8.5, in an interview with the news outlet Folha de S.Paulo during a trip to Brasília, Brazil, earlier this month. That’s the most pessimistic climate modeling scenario used by international and U.S. climate scientists to estimate the possible risks of climate change.

“The president said that the press in particular only focused on this more negative prediction,” Wheeler was quoted as saying in the Portuguese-language newspaper. “So there is a lot of wrong information and fear propaganda on this issue.”

The modeling scenario assumes emissions will continue unabated for decades to come, eventually resulting in a spike of 9 degrees Fahrenheit in global temperatures. Some scientists have argued that RCP 8.5 should no longer be referred to as the “business-as-usual” climate scenario due to global reductions in the use of coal over the last decade (Climatewire, Jan. 30).

Many scientists support the continued use of RCP 8.5, which they say can help provide an accurate picture of potential climate impacts when used with more optimistic scenarios (Climatewire, Feb. 11).

When the interviewer asked Wheeler about President Trump’s comments at the World Economic Forum, where Trump criticized the “prophets of doom” for predicting a harsh future due to climate change, Wheeler criticized scientists’ use of RCP 8.5.

Wheeler also defended the inclusion of atmospheric scientist and climate skeptic John Christy on EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Wheeler credited climate skeptics with discovering that RCP 8.5 “is not reliable.”

Wheeler has criticized the climate scenario repeatedly since November 2018, when 13 federal agencies determined in the Fourth National Climate Assessment that climate change presents profound threats to the United States. Wheeler surprised members of leading industrial nations in the Group of Seven in Metz, France, last year, by raising objections to the RCP 8.5 scenario when climate science wasn’t on the agenda.

Wheeler has promised to review the models used by researchers involved with the National Climate Assessment.

Wheeler was the first EPA chief to visit the Amazon. It came after a severe fire season burned more than 300,000 acres of the rainforest and contributed hundreds of millions of metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. His meetings with Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles focused on non-climate issues, like marine plastics.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has excoriated European leaders for expressing concern about the impact of the rainforest fires on the planet. Many of the blazes were started intentionally for agricultural purposes following permissive comments from Bolsonaro about cutting trees in the Amazon.

Wheeler was asked by Folha whether he saw rainforest deforestation as an international issue.

“I do not like to see another government coming to a third country to demand specific actions or practices,” he said.

Wheeler told his interviewer that water was his top environmental concern with climate change ranking lower — perhaps second or third.

“But we are doing something in all areas,” he said.